gardens in flood area : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

I need some information to plan my spring planting (I know it's early but I always try to have lots of time to think and plan before I act-made too many mistakes in my life to waste more time). I life in a flood plain that floods every few years. I have been here 9 years now and had a wonderful garden the first few years. Then it flooded, and my personal life changed drastically at the same time (not related to the flooding) I have not had a garden in the last 5 years (it has flooded once more since then) I was ready to get started on fence repairs and gathering up supports, finding seeds, etc- THEN my neighbor informed me that she would never garden in our area because of all the "stuff" in the soil after the flooding. I think that the winter rains would wash it down and back through our very sandy soil and thus clean the topsoil. She says with all the septic tank leaks and debris that comes down river she would never feel safe eating anything grown here. Now I know why she has had a wonderful pear tree in her yard and never once used one pear! (she just had it cut down to do some construction on the house) My question is would all of that "stuff" just stay there and go into my plants or would the rain wash it down after awhile. Should I only grow certain types of vegetables? No carrots, potatoes or onions? I grew several wonderful gardens those first three years and am now ready, and able to do it again. Should I be worried? If any of you have experience or ideas I could use your help. Thanks-Betty

-- betty modin (, September 04, 2000


Betty, unfortunately, your neighbor has a really good point. It does depend a lot on what kind of flooding you get-is it just causing some septic systems to overflow, a LOT of systems to overflow, is the flooding going through buildings? What is upstream? How badly does that get flooded? What has been dumped in or near the river over the years? What types of industry are (or were) upstream? Plants are storing what they find in the ground and they're storing it as onions or pears, doesn't matter to them if it is above or below ground.

That said, it is considered marginally safer to grow above ground produce in contaminated areas-no in-ground crops or low crops (which can get splashed during rain or watering). Certainly in China and other areas human wastes are used pretty much uncomposted as fertilizer. The people who do that can deal with the pathogens (for the most part), you and I would get sick. You wrote that you have sandy soil, that would help wash some contaminates away, but it also means you don't have much microbial activity in your soil. Around here, a lot of the town sewage lagoons are kept mowed by sheep or goats who additionally have no source of water but the lagoons. The animals are not supposed to go for food, but they go somewhere.... I've never heard of a problem traced back to the practice.

But you want to know if you can garden. Ask around locally. The county extension agent, farmers' coop, FAA & 4H, any organic growers or environmental groups. Somebody else has probably done some legwork on what is upstream, or rather what WAS upstream. A lot of things will be pretty well gone or diluted by the next growing season, some stuff will always be there. If you can't find anyone locally (and work your way up and down stream), contact your land grant college for help. Another thing to check on would be wells-are people still using private wells? Where are the wells located in relation to the river and flood plain? Did any towns/cities have to close wells or change their water processing methods? If wells got toasted, assume the worst for the land.

Flood plains have always been extremely fertile planting areas, but we've added so much to our environment that they are now very dangerous areas. They can also be excessively salty due to changes in land use/flood control, and farming practices upstream. So even if there isn't a terrible pollution problem with mercury or dioxins or whatever, the land may be too salty. I used to market garden in a flood plain, but it was high enough that many floods didn't come over the land. Certainly there was a lot of GOK in the water going past. And for some years my only garden space (for personal use, NOT for sale) was over a septic system. I had no obvious problems. Other than that I was flat broke and would have starved if I hadn't had a garden of some sort. Gerbil

-- Gerbil (, September 04, 2000.

Betty, how deep does the flooding get in your yard, and how strong of a current do you get? I'm wondering if you built some really sturdy raised beds (perhaps concrete block?), then filled them with soil from some unpolluted source, if they would survive any possible flooding, and provide you with a clean area for your produce. I don't really see the problem with your neighbor's pear tree, though -- if she had picked the pears, not letting them touch the ground, it seems like they should have been just fine to use. And pears should be picked a little green, anyway, and let ripen indoors.

-- Kathleen Sanderson (, September 04, 2000.

Consider gardening in five-gallon plastic buckets. If high water is coming have them carried to high ground.

-- Ken S. in TN (, September 04, 2000.

Betty, it's hard to make an informed decision without doing a lot of research. However, septic effluent going into the stream is unlikely to affect your garden, other than adding a bit of fertility, unless you are eating the vegetables right after the flood. Even then, it would depend on how much septic effluent has entered the stream in comparison to the total streamflow.

One item you should probably consider: most cities in this country, though not all, draw their drinking water from the streams they are located on. So, if you are concerned about the chemicals in the water (those that aren't affected by the cities' water purification plant, which is most of them), think about the poor folks who drink the city water, without the benefit of having it filtered by plants, as it would be filtered in your garden.


-- jumpoffjoe (, September 04, 2000.

Thank you for the responses. Actually, the area floods lightly every three or four years it seems. Gets into low houses and my basement, washes garbage cans and debris all over the neighborhood and makes the roads a muddy mess. The floods 2 1/2 years ago and the one in the early 1980's were ones that flooded houses, took out fences, ruined roads and left stuff I'm still digging up as I finish the cleanup. Upstream from the neighborhood is just more rural neighborhoods and four small towns-this is a very SHORT river (about 30 miles form birth to sea) in a mountainous area. The local area gets its drinking water from wells and springs-just where the wells are I don't know. The city at the mouth gets its water by diverting water from the river to a small man made lake in the mountains near me. The diverter is just downstream from my neighborhood. The gate is up while it is raining (after the first few hard rains that is, which wash out the accumulated junk of the dry late spring through late October)and only are taken down when flooding is expected. Many people think I should move (family and friends) but I love my home, my town and my neighbors more than I fear the water. Any other comments will help me and I will check with local agencies as well, Thank you all. Betty

-- betty modin (, September 04, 2000.

Betty, This answer is going to sound a bit strange, but trust me, it works! Find a local source for 55-gallon food-grade barrels. They are about $7.00 each in my area. Cut the top off, drill 1" dia drain holes in the bottom and holes through the sides so that they can be bolted together. Find a landscape suppier who can deliver a truckload of reliable compost and fill the barrels up. Run lengths of pvc with holes drilled for irrigation over the tops of the barrels and there you have it! Safe from flood, nematodes and best of all, if you're in an advanced stage of maturity like we are, you will find it a delight to not have to do a lot of bending and stooping to weed (hardly ever) and harvets. We get along just great with 16 barrels bolted together in two sets of eight arranged in two sets of four each. John and Pat.............

-- John and Pat James (, September 06, 2000.

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